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Producing Sugars from Cellulosic Biomass

January 10, 2009 · · Filed Under Alcohol Blended Fuels, Alternative Fuels, E85 Flex-Fuel, Governments, Science 

Michigan State University has submitted a patent application for “a process for increasing production of sugars from cellulose in a plant biomass using ammonia after swelling of the biomass with water and enzymatic hydrolysis is described. The sugars are preferably fermented to an alcohol, particularly ethanol as a fuel for vehicles.”

Biomass is roughly translated into nearly any organic material – including the parts of plants we harvest but do not use as food or feed.

A process by which whole plants are harvested as a biomass and processed together as one unit so that sugars are generated and then optionally fermented to an alcohol which comprises:(a) soaking the biomass in water for a period of time so as to increase the water within the biomass and to enhance sugar production from the biomass;(b) treating the plant biomass with concentrated ammonia under pressure in a closed vessel and then relieving the pressure to provide a treated plant biomass with recovery of the ammonia;(c) hydrolyzing the treated plant biomass in the presence of water to sugars using a combination of enzymes which hydrolyze cellulose, hemicellulose and other carbohydrates in the biomass to produce sugars; and(d) optionally fermenting the sugars to produce the alcohol.

Such a process would allow ethanol fuel manufacturers to grow a wider variety of crops that could be used as fuel stock in fermenting ethanol and methanol fuels – as well as possibly turning harvested scraps, lawn clippings, and other biomass into fuel stock. This could potentially remove some of “food-related” arguments from the opposition of alcohol-based fuel technologies, and encourage a wider mandate and adoption of flex-fueled vehicles. 

The growing U.S. appetite for petroleum, together with demand growth in China, India, and the rest of the world, has pushed prices to new highs. The United States uses over 20 million barrels of petroleum per day, of which 58% is imported. Prices of oil are significant and continue to rise. Bioethanol is one of the low cost, consumer-friendly ways to reduce gasoline consumption and carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. It is a clean fuel that can be used in today’s cars. One of the many attributes of bioethanol is that it does not contribute net carbon dioxide to the atmosphere

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